Book Review | The Curse of Gandhari by Aditi Banerjee

Author: Aditi Banerjee

Genre: Mythological fiction 

No. of pages: 336

Published on: 10th September 2019 

Published by: Bloomsbury India 

Format: Paperback 

My rating: ★★★★☆

Gandhari has one day left to live. As she stares death in the face, her memories travel back to the beginning of her story, to life's unfairness at every point: A fiercely intelligent princess who wilfully blindfolded herself for the sake of her peevish, visually-impaired husband; who underwent a horrible pregnancy to mother one hundred sons, each as unworthy as the other; whose stern tapasya never earned her a place in people's hearts, nor commanded the respect that Draupadi and Kunti attained; who even today is perceived either as an ingratiatingly self-sacrificing wife or a bad mother who was unable to control her sons and was, therefore, partly responsible for the great war of the Mahabharata.

In this insightful and sensitive portrayal, Aditi Banerjee rescues Gandhari from being reduced to a mere symbol of her blindfold. She builds her up, as Ved Vyasa did, as an unconventional heroine of great strength and iron will - who, when crossed, embarked upon a complex relationship with Lord Krishna, and became the queen who cursed a God.

Why has Gandhari always been underestimated? Why don't we know enough about Gandhari? Why has history books downplayed Gandhari, and portrayed her as only the old mother of the 100 evil Kauravas and a woman who has bowed down to fate and voluntarily snatched away her freedom of sight to be at par with her blind husband, to appease the Gods?

Aditi Banerjee's The Curse of Gandhari is a marvelous take on the lesser known female character in the Mahabharata. I'm writing this review on International Women's Day - the day we celebrate women. It becomes essentially important to me to ask those of you reading this book - why ignore the secondary female characters in books and in life? Even Draupadi is known only for being the woman who was asked to share herself between 5 brothers, and a woman who was disrobed by someone and had to literally beg a God to help her.

In The Curse of Gandhari, author Aditi Banerjee celebrates Gandhari's life. The strong-willed and virtuous woman - Gandhari. In a way that makes the book more interesting, the author narrates Gandhari's life story as it happened in the Mahabharata with a fictional twist. The author takes her readers on Gandhari's arduous life journey from her spinster life in Gandhari to her funeral pyre in the forests of Hastinapur.

What most people seemed to ignore in the Mahabharata, has been beautifully portrayed in this book - Gandhari's tragic life. From being a woman who was blessed by the Gods to produce 100 sons for the greatest kingdom in history to the woman who cursed Lord Krishna for taking away her sons. A loving mother, and a courageous Queen, Gandhari spent her days only wishing the best for others, even the Pandavas. You need to read this particular book to celebrate a lesser known woman in mythology. But this woman showed great strength. She is an inspiration, she is the symbol of courage, virtue and sacrifice.

The book is written with absolute perfection. The narration seemed a bit lyrical and poetic, justifiable to the great epic Mahabharata. I loved how the author wrote her characters - each with their quirks and talking style, that you can literally imagine them in your head. I loved how the author has portrayed her female characters especially - giving essence and depth to the characters. There is a good flow in the story, even though the story goes to and from past and present scenarios. I loved reading the book and enjoyed every bit of it. 

Aditi Banerjee is a practicing attorney at a Fortune 500 financial services company. She co-edited the book, Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America. She has published several essays on Hinduism and the Hindu-American experience in publications such as Outlook India and Swarajya. She earned a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School and received a B.A. in International Relations, magna cum laude, from Tufts University.

I received a copy of the book in exchange of an honest and unbiased review. 


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